The American Civil Liberties Union is pursuing twice as many lawsuits in Kansas under legal director Lauren Bonds than before she arrived.

When Bonds joined ACLU of Kansas in 2017, the Overland Park office had four active case. Currently, the staff is working eight.

The ACLU doesn’t file lawsuits without help from the public, however. Like other lawyers, they represent clients as plaintiffs. Bonds said more people are willing to take their cases to court.

Some complaints settle within a day, such as the Statehouse police banning Kansas State students from protesting over Medicaid expansion in March. Others, including a fight against the Shawnee Mission School District for disciplining student journalists trying to cover a demonstration about school shootings, took a year of litigation. It was settled last month.

Bonds, 28, sat down  in her hometown of Hutchinson and talked what she sees as an increase in activism.

GHK: What is precipitating more lawsuits?

Bonds: I that there is more kind of a stronger sense of activism among Kansans, who feel that the state or municipalities are violating their rights. It’s fantastic that people have had the courage to step forward and fix these problems that in a lot of cases have been going on for a long time.

GHK: A vivid example is Kansas State students getting banned from the Capitol for protesting refusal to pass Medicaid expansion with a banner of bloody hands. What did you find there?

Bonds: What we were challenging wasn't so much their right to drop a banner, it was the fact that the Statehouse currently maintains rules that would prohibit them from having a poster of the size of a piece of paper coming into the to the Legislature. And it wouldn't allow them to assemble without having a legislative sponsor. Essentially they were shutting out any kind of protest or freedom of expression if you didn't have endorsement from the government.

We got them temporarily enjoined, by agreement, for the legislative veto session. We're really in the process of seeing if we can get something more long term in fixing those rules.

GHK: The case against Shawnee Mission schools took longer.

Bonds: We thought we'll get this done with a letter or a phone call. Prior to filing a case, we worked for about a month with the school district trying to see if we can get some kind of agreement that they were going to not restrict students speech based on the fact that it was politically controversial. That is patently unconstitutional. We spent a year fighting it out.

I think we got just about basically that we asked for prior to filing the lawsuit. We also got attorneys’ fees, which is not something we were asking for before we filed the lawsuit.

Case studies

GHK: The latest settlement between the ACLU and the State of Kansas came over a case about access to treatment for Hepatitis C. What happened to settle that case?

Bonds: There are antiviral drugs that can cure Hep C after 12 weeks of treatment. However, it's a little bit more expensive than the drug that was previously available to patients. And so the State of Kansas had this policy where people on Medicaid weren't getting the curative treatment; they were getting the treatment that essentially just reduce their symptoms. And so this settlement is already ensuring that the 30,000 people on Medicaid, who are Hep C infected are going to are going to be able to get this curative treatment and be able to no longer have to live with the disease after 12 weeks.

GHK: Does this serve prison inmates, too?

Bonds: That's actually a separate issue that we're trying to resolve with the state before we have to file a lawsuit. But inmates currently aren't getting the same treatment that people on Medicaid are getting. But the state does recognize that the law requires that and they're taking steps to see if they can get funding for it. There's a huge public health benefit to making sure people both in prisons and on the outside are getting this treatment;it means there's not going to be the same level of infections when people get out or even internally within the prison populations.

GHK: In March, the ACLU argued appeals in a case you tried against Kris Kobach when he was secretary of state, dealing with documentary proof of citizenship to vote. What’s you’re feeling of what happens next for that issue?

Bonds: I don't want to jinx us or overstate how well it went, but I think that, based off of the judges’ questions, it seems very promising that Judge Robinson's ruling will be upheld. But I think it would be helpful if the state could not have to wait this out, they could just fix the law. I mean, this is something that the legislature has the authority to do. And so we're also pushing for that, in addition to see what happens in the court

The law hasn't been enforced for the 2016 or 2018 elections. So it's not something that that you're that is being currently being required to register now. So I think would actually be more work to have all the county clerks and everyone up to go back to the standard where you do have to show proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. I think it would be easier to keep it out of effect right now. And just, repeal it. It was only in effect, I believe, during the 2014 elections. And that's where a number of our clients were, you know, showed up at the polls, and were told that, you know, they weren't properly registered and weren't allowed to vote.

GHK: You requested records from Johnson County dealing with requiring signatures on advanced ballots. What happened with those?

Bonds: So we got all the records, which is great. But even better is they've passed the legislative fix this year. So a bill called SB130 was passed this year, that would require verification on a part of any election worker looking at the ballot and looking at the signature in the poll book and sees a discrepancy. So this would give people the opportunity to at least notice, which was our main problem with the with the mismatch practices.

GHK: Kobach is being considered for Homeland Security and he’s talked in TV interviews about using FEMA detention trailers to solve border security. Do you have any thoughts on whether that might draw a constitutional challenge?

Bonds: I've been paying attention in passing. This is not an official position of the ACLU, but it’s just my perception the proposal essentially makes concentration camps in a lot of situations. It sounds like a extreme violation of, you know, asylees’ and immigrants’ constitutional rights, and it doesn't sound good.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.